July 10, 1984
Well, 30 years ago today -- and you've probably been told this several times -- President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed into law Public Law 480, the Food for Peace Program. And 10 years before the signing ceremony which took place here at the White House, President Eisenhower launched the Normandy invasion. And only the year before the signing ceremony he was first sworn in as President. It's possible that on July 10th, 1954, Ike thought most of his great moments were behind him. But that was not so, as this program proves, for in time it grew to become one of the greatest humanitarian acts ever performed by one nation for the needy of other nations.
I'm delighted to welcome here today Ike's Secretary of Agriculture, Ezra Taft Benson, who was present when the Food for Peace bill was signed. Welcome. Glad to have you here.
Food for Peace is still the largest food aid program in the world. Over the last 30 years, it's delivered almost 653 billion pounds of food to people in over 100 countries. It's helped bring hope and new economic opportunity to more than 1.8 billion people. Statistics are, by their nature, dry, but bear with me for a moment as I give you just a few more -- with the hope that they haven't been given to you already.
Food for Peace has delivered 27,000 tons of food a day to recipient countries for three decades now. And the value of those U.S. farm products exceeds $33 billion -- more than $3 million a day over the history of the program.
All of those numbers give us a sense of the scope and the magnitude of this program. But its great contribution is that it's an instrument of American compassion. And it also reflects America's practicality. We recognized 30 years ago that people who are hungry are weak allies for freedom. And we recognized, too, that except in emergencies, handouts don't help. From the beginning, recipient countries paid for a significant part of the food they received.
The businesslike approach is one of the strengths of this program. We've never attempted to make countries who receive our food become dependent on our aid. In fact, we've used our aid to foster economic development around the world. And that is an important reason why, over the years, many of the nations that have received our aid have eventually become major commercial partners.
In the early days of Food for Peace, the major recipient nations were the war-devastated economies of Europe: Italy and Spain, West Germany and Japan. And with time and with the help of Food for Peace, those economies regained their strength. They began to pay cash for American farm commodities. Many of these countries have become our top commercial partners. Eight of our top 10 agricultural markets are former recipients of Food for Peace aid. And Japan is now our number one agricultural market on a cash basis. And that has not only been good for the American farmer and the American economy; it's been good for our international relations.
Food for Peace has been very important in spreading good will and generosity throughout the world. When droughts and flooding from the El Nino weather disturbances destroyed food crops in Peru, Bolivia, and other Latin American countries last year, Food for Peace took the lead in providing emergency relief. During the 1966 famine in India, roughly 60 million people are estimated to have been sustained for 2 years by Food for Peace shipments.
Today we face a severe and widespread famine in Africa, which is threatening the lives of millions. And, once again, Food for Peace is saving lives. We've already agreed to provide over $400 million for food assistance to Africa in this year alone. And I want to announce today a major initiative to help the starving people of America -- or of Africa, I should say, and the world. It's a new program to help us deliver food more quickly and smoothly to those who suffer the most from the ravages of famine.
I will shortly propose legislation to create a $50 million Presidential fund allowing us to set aside existing foreign aid resources to meet emergency food aid needs. By prepositioning food stocks overseas where the requirements are the greatest, we can respond to emergency situations more rapidly and effectively. I will also propose authority to allow the Food for Peace Program to reduce the burden of transportation costs on the most needy countries. And all this is aimed at reducing the loss of life to acute hunger in the Third World.
Food for Peace has come to embody the spirit of American voluntarism. The Federal Government has developed a strong partnership with the private sector to help feed malnourished infants and children, to help mothers and the aged and the disabled. This cooperative effort with private and voluntary organizations includes such agencies as CARE and Catholic Relief Services, and many other groups are helping, also.
In short, the Food for Peace Program has become a wonderful means by which a nation of abundance has helped those in need. It's helped us expand agricultural markets, get needy allies back on their feet, and help potential allies become strong allies for freedom. Food for Peace has helped to coordinate the charitable impulses of the private sector. It's helped feed the weakest people in the world.
And this record of progress is the result of what happened 30 years ago today, when Dwight Eisenhower picked up a pen and signed a piece of paper that quietly -- and, with no great attention from the wise, he changed the world. I think Dwight D. Eisenhower would be very proud of what the Food for Peace Program has accomplished. I certainly am, and I'm proud to be able to mark with you its anniversary today.
May Food for Peace continue its great work; may it continue to be administered wisely; and may we continue to combat hunger and malnutrition throughout the world.
Now, I thank you all again for being here, and God bless you.
And now I'll sign this proclamation which designates today, July 10, 1984, as Food for Peace Day.
Note: The President spoke at 1:50 p.m. in the East Room at the White House.